Posted by: SandraDeeble
February 13, 2014
Robin Williams: I was in IT before I founded NamaYasai in 2004. In Kanji (the Chinese characters used in Japanese), the symbols for Nama Yasai mean “raw” or “give birth”, “field” and “vegetable”. I’d reached a point in my career where I could do something different and I decided that it was now or never. I looked at several businesses (including rice growing) and eventually decided to specialise in Japanese vegetables.
I visited a few restaurants in Brighton and London and the response was basically, “We’ll buy everything you can produce.” I’ve since learned that they meant: “We’ll buy everything you can sell at the price we decide.” But we’ve managed to survive.
We started by digging up our back lawn, and we now farm 60 acres. We’re not certified organic, but our philosophy is very low input growing. You won’t see straight rows of plants or acres of polythene – and weeds are welcome here.
We grow more than 50 varieties of vegetable including edamame, daikon, shiso (a minty herb), nasu (baby aubergine) and kabocha (a Japanese pumpkin).
Between May and early December we deliver vegetable boxes to about 400 customers in London and the south. It’s difficult to compete with imports from China and Thailand but we deliver to local collection points within 1-9 hours of harvest. My mother grew lots of vegetables and she tended to harvest things in the garden an hour or two before we were due to eat them. It makes a huge difference to the taste and to the nutritional value of the veg.
Ikuko Suzuki: When I was a child I would help to grow tomatoes and cucumbers in my family’s kitchen garden in Oita, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. When Robin and I started this business, I wasn’t sure about his plans. Most of the vegetables Robin wanted to grow, he hadn’t even seen before. But he was so enthusiastic that I gave in. It helps that we have some very good workers. They are happy to come out to work at 2am and they even come out in the rain.
Lots of people know about edamame now. The supermarkets are selling it frozen. Last Saturday I sold fresh edamame at the Lewes farmers’ market and a lot of people asked what they were. They’d never seen edamame on the stem and they admired the shape, which I would describe as very architectural.
In our vegetable boxes, we leave them on the stem and wrap them in newspaper. That’s the best way to keep the flavour.
I used to do consulting work, and I worked in an office. As a hobby I always wanted to grow vegetables. I never thought it would be an occupation. I’ve never been busy like this before. It’s non-stop.